Simply put, a lattice structure for 3D printing is a repeating or non-repeating 3-dimensional assemblage of connected nodes. In its simplest form, multiple lattice nodes get connected to one another by beams. In the case of a repeating 3D structure, the collection of beams and nodes take on regular and repeating 3D shapes such as cubes or tetrahedrons. These shapes are often referred to as cells. The shape and density of these cells will determine how the part behaves when loads are applied.
A 3D printed lattice structure makes optimal use of both material and the printer’s unique capabilities by only putting mass where it is structurally necessary. The overall item is thus significantly lighter than if it would be if completely solid. This is one reason why lattice structures are very common in the natural world. For many years this principle could only be implemented on large-scale constructions like steel buildings. However, with the advent and growing accessibility of 3D printing, it has become possible to create smaller and more mundane parts and products with internal lattice structures of their own. It can be done both for mechanical strength and aesthetic appeal. This method significantly reduces the mass of a part and has almost endless applications in the aerospace and automotive industries where reduced mass directly translates to improved fuel efficiency.
Due to the complexity of lattice structures, it is impractical to model them into the part using typical CAD tools. In most cases, the part is drawn in CAD as if it were solid. Then, after the part has been designed (with DFAM principles in mind) the model is imported into another software package to generate a lattice structure. Among the more common programs for this purpose are Netfabb or nTopology.
Another method of generating a 3D printed lattice structure is through generative design. In this case, a part’s connection points, mass limitations, and expected loads are defined. An algorithm then generates hundreds of solutions that would meet the requirements. From there, the most optimal lattice cell structure and cell density can be selected from among the solutions or generated through further iteration. When creating a lattice structure, it’s important to understand what factors will affect the overall function of the final part. These factors are listed below:
A 3D printed lattice skull, just in time for Halloween!
Lattice structures for 3D printing offer a wide range of benefits. Some of the most important are listed below.
In general, lattice structures for 3D printing allow engineers to push the limits of material science while simultaneously reducing overall part mass. Lattice structures have only recently started moving from advanced aerospace applications to more common consumer products thanks to the growing availability of 3D printers and reductions in material costs. This style of design is here to stay simply because lattices are so efficient. It is wise to learn how to incorporate them into your designs to leverage their benefits. To learn more about how your parts can benefit from lattice structures, contact a Xometry expert today.